Over six kilometers into a 10K race, the course banks right as I follow the leading runners into an open side gate at the famed Hershey amusement park. If it weren’t for the collective of enthusiastic volunteers banging clappers together and cheering phrases like “Keep going! You can do it!” as we run by, I’d think it had been left open by accident.
Despite the throng of people returning from the out-n-back jaunt through the amusement park as I enter, it’s eerily quiet without the sounds of laughter and rides in motion. We race through an empty frontier land, past a faux beach, and along a boardwalk of stores peddling Hershey goods while ride mechanics perch high atop roller coasters to look down on the 2.500 strong crowd that’s gathered for Hershey’s third annual 10K. I’m a first timer here, and running through this cocoa-infused paradise toward the finish of the longest distance I’ve been able to run in months is a victory sweeter than the chocolate this place was built on.
Nicknamed the “Sweetest Place on Earth” or “Chocolate Town U.S.A,” Hershey, Pennsylvania is a quaint town fueled by America’s unceasing love of the milk chocolate that bears its name. Streets called Chocolate Way and Cocoa Avenue border the Hershey Factory, Chocolate World, and Hersheypark, making it a mecca for cocoaphiles and amusement park enthusiasts alike. Though I’m an admitted chocoholic, our primary purpose for this visit isn’t a sugar high. We drove two plus hours before dawn to run through a town built on the business of candy.
When we arrive at 6:30 a.m., the morning is still cool and I’m sporting a long sleeve shirt and shorts, along with a knee brace to steady my injured leg and keep the muscle warm. For a mid-April race in central Pennsylvania, the weather is pleasant with temperatures hovering around 55 at the start, heating to almost 60 degrees at the finish. After picking up our packets, pinning on our numbers, and double-knotting our shoelaces, we head to the starting line.
As we crowd near the start at Hershey Stadium, things get a bit chaotic. I’ve become accustomed to corralled starts at larger races, whereas Hershey begins with a single start for all 2,500 runners, meaning walkers and runners of all paces are jumbled together. When they signal us to go, it takes nearly two minutes to cross the chip timing mat, and at least a mile before we settle into a rhythm. My racing partner, Christian, darts ahead, but I continue at a steady pace. Weakened by a piriformis injury at a chilly St. Patrick’s Day race, I’ve scarcely run since, and I pause to stretch my tight muscles along the sidelines nearly every half mile. Despite this, the pack thins out nicely as I continue up and down mildly rolling hills before winding into Hersheypark.
I run past midways, silent looping coasters, waterslides, and kiddie airplanes as I course through the park, passing back by where I’d entered before crossing a bridge and exiting at the 9 kilometer mark. At this point, the nearness of the finish energizes me. My footfalls come faster and my breath quickens as “We Will Rock You” starts pounding steadily in my ears. The surroundings of Chocolate World and the stadium fade away as I begin passing one runner after another on the path to the Hershey Stadium track for the final sprint. Willing myself to speed up, I cross the finish line in 1:05. It’s much slower than my 10K PR, but the time is satisfying because my injury has left me sidelined for so long.
At the finish, a volunteer hangs a heavy, custom Hershey medal around my neck depicting a runner passing a roller coaster and Hershey’s Kissing Tower. Next I join finishers in swarming an oversized box of Capital Blue insulated lunch bags, each filled with a banana, Hershey chocolate chip cookie, Mr. Goodbar and Kit-Kat minis, Jolly Rancher’s, and pretzels. One item is noticeably absent: a Hershey bar!
Snacks in hand, we wrap ourselves in silver reflective heat sheets to take the chill off (it works) and amble toward the awards ceremony, where the 25-year-old first place speedster Scott McGeary, who finished in 34 minutes 12 seconds, receives a giant prize money check and poses with the Hershey bar, Reese’s, and Kisses characters. I attempt my own photo opp, but the characters bolt for the exit following the awards. Sad face. Next we do the outfit change switcharoo in the car and head for Chocolate World! Yes, Hershey’s offered post-race showers for runners, but we didn’t take advantage of the perk.
Overall, the Hershey 10K was a fantastic race. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, a nicer course, or race perks. My only disappointment was the race shirt sizing. The design was great and I’d definitely wear it again, but a unisex fit meant the size small drowned me. Choosing a child’s XL was an option, but the too short sleeves didn’t work for my height either. Since 65% of participants were women, I hope they choose gender-specific sizing next year to make everyone happier.
To learn more about the Hershey 10K, Chocolate Town Bike Tour, or Hershey Half Marathon, visit chocolatetownchallenges.com. Sign up for the Hershey Half Marathon begins May 1 and it sells out quickly, so don’t miss out!
Visiting Chocolate World and Hersheypark
You can’t visit Hershey without going to Chocolate World and Hersheypark! Right? So we stopped in at Hershey’s hub where a food court, 3D show, Chocolate Tasting, and chocolate bars of every kind and size fill the space. A remodel is in progress so much of it is not currently in use, but we can’t wait to see what it looks like when finished! After buying treats for my nieces and nephew, we went into Hersheypark to enjoy a partial day riding rides. Hershey is thankfully home to tons of roller coasters (our favorite) so they ended up being the only rides we tried all day.
I have to warm up to bigger thrills, so we started with a wooden coaster named The Comet (rated 4 out of 5 on Hershey’s intensity-o meter) and enjoyed the big drop thrills and typical wooden roller coaster ricketiness. Then we upped our fun factor to 5 by riding The Great Bear, a smooth inverted looping coaster with high-speeds and a zero-G corkscrew roll that’s named for the sound it makes when in motion. Definitely the darling of the day, don’t miss The Bear if you visit! Next we navigated toward the Midway, home to Lightning Racer, a wooden racing coaster where two trains race against each other on opposing tracks to finish first. Wild Cat, another wooden coaster, came next and the intense drops, thrills, and curves came as a surprise from a wooden roller coaster.
Next…Boomerang, a unique coaster that pulls you up backwards, shoots you through the start terminal, through multiple loops, only to reverse and go backwards through it all. Boomerang is where things went…not so well. As I was boarding the coaster, I hooked my Sanuk on the side of the cart and it fell off, plunging to the ground 15 feet below the coaster. I immediately realized that wearing loafers was a poor decision, I had to embarrassingly tell the attendants I’d dropped my shoe, and we were removed from the ride to wait off to the side for an hour waiting for maintenance to retrieve it. This derailed our plans for other rides as we had plans for the evening, but we did make time to stop for a s’more on the way out of the park. Turns out that Reese’s peanut butter cup s’mores are even tastier than the original!
Grownup Fun at Tröegs Brewery
Kids and adults alike love Chocolate Town, but if you’re overwhelmed by treats and tourists, break away and stop in at Tröegs Brewery. Located just outside the Hershey complex, Tröegs features a massive tasting room where every brew and menu item is made from scratch, sourcing local ingredients whenever possible. We’ve also heard they offer a killer Sunday brunch. Get a tasting flight of their six best-selling beers or try the seasonals. Standouts for us were the coffee-flavored Java Stout and the Tröegenator Double Bock, a twice fermented strong Belgian lager first created by Monks! For more information on Tröegs, visit troegs.com.